by William Faulkner
Dry September Theme of Race
For some of the characters in "Dry September," a story set in post-slavery, pre-Civil Rights Mississippi, life is black and white. For such characters, most notably John McLendon, contact between black people and white people is governed by a strict unwritten code that must be constantly enforced from within the community itself. Breaches of the code (or even rumors of breaches) result in severe consequences. Other characters, like Henry Hawkshaw, see past color to the character of the individual, regardless of color. The interplay between these two modes of vision sparks much of the tension in this story, hopefully inspiring the reader to think deeply on the nature of racial divides.
Questions About Race
- Why is the town square absent of black people when Minnie and her friends walk through it that Saturday night?
- Are we given any idea about Minnie's views on race? If so, what are they? If not, what is the effect of this omission?
- How does the racially denigrating language in the story impact your reading? Do you think this language is necessary to the story, or could it have been left out?
Chew on This
Faulkner's "Dry September" is still relevant because it explores a problem still present in contemporary American society – crimes motivated by racism.
When Hawkshaw defends Will Mayes by describing him as "a good nigger" we get our first clue that Hawkshaw's attitude toward black people is conflicted; this conflict is repeated at several other points in the story, but ultimately left unresolved (1.2).